Fiat + Chrysler = ?
Employment at the grounds has fallen from 700 five years ago to about 400 this spring. And now, with Italian automaker Fiat poised to take control of Chrysler as part of Chrysler's Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, it's unclear what will happen to the sprawling 3,850-acre facility.
With its ninety-five miles of test roads and its noise, emissions, and crash test labs, the Chelsea Proving Grounds is one of the best testing facilities in the auto industry. Today, car magazines and others, including auto suppliers, are still testing there. But in recent years Chrysler itself has been rolling out fewer models, cutting labor costs, and reeling financially, leaving the future of this valuable asset up for grabs.
"We need that facility," says Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa. So does the area. The proving grounds is a major taxpayer in Washtenaw County. Its owner pays more than $1 million a year in property taxes on it.
After quietly buying up farms in Sylvan Township, Chrysler started building the proving grounds in the early 1950s. When it opened in 1954, top Indianapolis 500 drivers christened the 4.7-mile oval track. They hit speeds of 179 miles an hour on the long straightaways.